Microsoft Spearheads Protocol Push

Microsoft Corp. is quietly working on an early implementation of a new protocol to build distributed computing applications that span the Web.

Microsoft Corp. is quietly working on an early implementation of a new protocol to build distributed computing applications that span the Web.

The Simple Object Access Protocol, or SOAP, enables Remote Procedure Calls (RPCs) to be sent as Extensible Markup Language (XML) syntax across the Web's HTTP architecture.

The protocol was developed by Microsoft, UserLand Software, and DevelopMentor, according to the draft specification of the protocol being circulated by Microsoft.

Microsoft officials said the XML-based protocol fits into its goal to interoperate with other platforms and vendors.

"We're committed to interoperate as never before," said Vic Gundotra, director of platform marketing at Microsoft.

According to those who saw early demos, SOAP bridges Component Object Model (COM) and Distributed COM objects across the Web and runs natively in Windows NT, Windows 95, and Windows 98. Microsoft has also built SOAP connections to Internet Explorer and to Java, sources said.

Microsoft's COM architecture speak natively to the SOAP protocol, Gundotra said. He added that other object architectures, such as CORBA, Java Remote Method Invocation, and Apple Events, could use SOAP as a "lowest common denominator" to interoperate, though he warned this protocol is early in the development cycle.

Using text to transmit objects across the Web holds a lot of promise, said one analyst.

"It's very powerful. If you want to talk about thin clients, you can't get thinner than that," said J.P. Morgenthal, president of NC.Focus, a consultancy in Hewlett, New York.

At present, other companies are shipping products that enable RPC over XML, such as UserLand Software's Frontier 5.1 Web content management system, DataChannel's WebBroker technology, and WebMethods' B2B Integration Server. None would talk directly about SOAP, but all liked the idea of a single standard.

Dave Winer, president of UserLand Software, in Palo Alto, California, said he would be happy to standardize on one protocol.

DataChannel has submitted WebBroker, a similar protocol, to the World Wide Web Consortium. John Tigue, DataChannel's senior software architect, said SOAP will most likely be similar to his submission, but he looks forward to working with Microsoft on one standard.

Josh Lucas, a Web consultant in Boston, is excited about Web-based distributed computing.

"Developers can start piecing together applications and make more meta applications," Lucas said. "A standard like this would go beyond the cross-platform promise of Java."

Microsoft Corp., in Redmond, Washington, can be reached at http://www.microsoft.com.

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